Author Archives: fictorians

Made to Be Broken – A Guest Post by Hamilton Perez

A guest post by Hamilton Perez.

I was just starting out in college when I first decided to be a writer, and I set for myself the goal of publishing my first novel before I graduated. Seemed reasonable, I thought. It’s an uncertain field, after all, I should try to break in as soon as possible so I don’t just sit on my degree afterward. Now, several years after graduating, I still haven’t finished that first novel, let alone published one.

To be a writer is to be a dreamer. But that’s only half of it. To be a writer is to be disappointed. It’s easy, in the beginning to be blinded by imagination, ambition, by the colorful worlds sprouting and blooming inside your head. You can do this, you think. It’s all possible.

And therein lays the unsolicited rub.

Being a writer, or any artist really, is essentially an act of faith. It’s surrendering any sense of control in your personal (read: financial) destiny in pursuit of a creative field that’s harder to crack than a macadamia nut.

That’s why goals are such alluring creatures to an artist. They allow us to believe (for however brief a time) that we have some control over our pitiful fates. They’re lies we tell ourselves to get us moving when the doubt creeps in. But as with art, goals are often born from an excess of ambition. You learn that quickly as you fail to write your thousand words a day, then your five hundred words, then one hundred, until that day comes when you don’t write at all and spend three hours on the couch, watching The Flash with your dog who’s clearly disappointed in you.

Once you fail at your goals, you realize that the same imagination that fuels stories also fuels your hope of what you can accomplish in the one or two hour window you’ve set aside between work, relationships, and nap time. Little did you know when you set those goals that you were setting yourself up for failure.

O cruel, twisty irony!

It’s easy at this point to be discouraged. Indeed, that part’s encouraged. Wallow, dammit. You’re an artist. But once you’ve finished your wallowing, take a look at your work. You might have failed to meet a daily word count, but perhaps you reached half of it. Maybe you found a new plot device or story title. There’s always a silver lining hidden amid the dross. You’ve made something, which is the first step away from making nothing.

Before you can be a successful writer, you have to be a bad one. Before you can set reasonable goals, you have to chase the crazy ones. You have to know what your limits are, what you can handle and what you can’t. The good news: you’re doing it! The bad: you have to fail, you are going to fail.

Embrace that failure.

But setting goals and working towards them isn’t enough. You have to recognize when those goals aren’t working and are actually holding you back. Writing 250 words a day isn’t going to make you a better writer if you’re just typing “Why am I doing this?” fifty times. When that failure comes, you need to either change the goal or abandon it. It’s better to only write a promising first chapter during National Novel Writing Month than to write a terrible novel that had some potential in chapter one.

In 2016, I tried the popular NaNoWriMo for the first time. I planned out the story a month ahead. I did my research beforehand. I calculated how much I needed to write in a day and when I could afford to take a day off. And the first week I was on a roll, churning out one to two thousand words a day. But in the second week, I started to slip. I wrote less and I was less happy with what I wrote. The dream of having a completed novel to work with and develop in December was slipping away. I had a choice: I could either slog through and try and reach the final word count, or readjust my goals and develop the parts of the novel I liked to see where the story actually wanted to go.

The exciting result: I still haven’t finished that novel… But I absolutely love the three chapters I’ve got so far. Most of what I’d written after that point has been scrapped or reworked, and the novel is so much better for it. But because of the work I did during NaNoWrMo, even though I technically failed at the goal, I now know where I want the story to go.

Like rules, creative goals are made to be broken. They aren’t for life planning. They’re for now. For getting you moving, getting you writing. Whether you meet them isn’t really the point. The point is you keep going. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quick. You keep going. You write and you create.

So set your goals. Set reasonable ones. Set ambitious ones. Just set some goals, something—anything—for you to shoot for. Then abandon them when they stop working for you. Wallow a bit. Clear your head. Set some new goals, and write.

Rinse, repeat.

 

About Hamilton Perez

Hamilton Perez is a writer and freelance editor living in Sacramento, California. When not writing, he can be found rolling 20-sided dice or chasing squirrels with the dog. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Metaphorosis, and Syntax & Salt. You can follow him on Twitter @TheWritingHam.

In Favor of Failure – A Guest Post by Colton Hehr

A guest post by Colton Hehr.

“Don’t quit” is  one of the most common adages passed around the writing community. Don’t quit writing, don’t quit submitting, don’t quit your day job. We’ve all heard some variation or another and it’s not bad advice. Writing as a career requires playing the long game, so consistent effort is a prerequisite. Yet, at the end of each year, most of us can look at a check list of projects and find that we stopped working on one or set aside another. At some point in our efforts, we quit. 

If you asked most of us, we’d probably admit to quitting more readily than to failing, not only in writing but in other areas of our life: you rarely hear someone say “I failed my diet.” They say “I quit my diet.” Or “I quit going to the gym.” Or “I quit playing guitar.” We almost always couch these situations as quitting rather than failure. Failure has negative connotations and if we quit before we fail, then the failure never really occurs, does it?

I want to argue in favor of failure. I think it’s more useful to us as writers than quitting is. The terms might be synonymous to some people, but let me split hairs for a moment. Quitting and failure are only similar because they happen at the same time. To use a sports analogy, quitting is when you stop playing the game because you’re losing, and failing is when you play to the end and accept your loss.

The first reason I prefer failing to quitting is an unfortunate reality of commercial writing: I know that I’m probably going to suffer some failures or setbacks in my career, at some point, purely from circumstances outside my control. Maybe my manuscript gets passed in the slush pile because an agent has too many books from that genre. Maybe I send in a short story to an online market that goes under.  Any number of things could affect my career negatively, all completely outside of my control.

By holding myself accountable and acknowledging my own personal failures, I’m more prepared to deal with those uncontrollable failures.  It might be disappointing, but it won’t be debilitating. Our personal failures are sort of like callouses, they help us come to grips with whatever the world might throw at us.

The second benefit to failing is that I think we learn more from it than from quitting. When something ends, whether in failure or in success, there’s a sense of closure that quitting doesn’t provide (or, at least, that I’ve never felt from quitting). Failure is an important teaching tool in several endeavors, from music to athletic, and it can serve the same purpose for writers. 

Think of failure as a diagnostic tool.  When we acknowledge that we’ve failed, we can step back from the situation and examine it to find out what went wrong. When we’re at the point of failing, there’s three questions that we ought to ask:

1. What caused the failure?

2. Is it something that can be fixed?

3. If so, is it more beneficial to accept the failure and move on or to try and fix it?

As an example, I recently stepped away from a project in its outlining stage. I had been worldbuilding and outlining for what was supposed to be a horror novel. At some point, it evolved into a train heist story and I found myself stuck in a rut. Before I made the choice to set the project aside, I asked myself: 

1. What caused the failure? The setting gave me the opportunity to write a horror story, but my focus in the outline had drifted away from that and towards an adventure story. I’m not against organic story development, but the project had shifted completely from my original intent and it stopped me dead in my tracks.

2. Is this something that can be fixed? Yes. I could walk my way back through the outline and rework it from the beginning. I could set aside the first outline and start fresh with a new story, new characters, and a more conscious effort to focus on what I had originally wanted to write.

3. If so, is it more beneficial to accept failure or to fix the problem? In this case, I had another idea that I wanted to write, one that I felt was much more tightly focused. I also realized that, while the train heist wasn’t what I wanted to do in the first place, it still had the germ of a good story. In the end, I accepted my failure, set the project aside, and moved on to something else. I still have all the material, so I can come back to it another time, free from any of the frustrations that came from my initial failure.

Of course, a lot of the answers to the first question are outside of our control. Sometimes the “failure” is that we’re depressed, or that our day job has grown more demanding, or that unexpected opportunities have brushed aside other obligations. That’s okay; because failure isn’t negative, we don’t have to beat ourselves up over it. We can accept it for what it is and move on. When I looked over my list of 2017 projects, quite a few boxes were left unchecked. Each one of those was a failure and I did my best to learn from all of them. I don’t feel bad about a single one. 

Neither should you. Next time you feel like you need to quit a project, give yourself permission to fail and then learn from it.

 

About Colton Hehr:

Colton Hehr currently works as a direct care counselor in a residential treatment center for teenagers and adolescents. When he isn’t writing, reading, or lifting, he tries to pet as many dogs as possible. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma with his girlfriend Ariana. Colton’s first professional sale will be in the upcoming Writers of the Future 34.

A Gamer’s Guide to Quitting – A Guest Post by Heidi A. Wilde

A guest post by Heidi A. Wilde.

When I was first asked to submit a post about knowing when to quit your goals I had mixed feelings. Aren’t we supposed to never quit? “Winners never quit and quitters never win” and all that? But the more I thought about it, and read other people’s thoughts on the subject, the more I realized that there are quite a few instances where quitting is actually the right thing to do, and that it doesn’t mean you have failed. I love playing games of all sorts, board games, video games, computer games/MMOs/etc, you name it; and as I was pondering how best to talk about the circumstances when it is okay to abandon a goal a few gaming correlations came to mind. Stick with me here, and I’ll share five examples of when quitting is the better option.

  1. Your quest log is full and/or you’ve out leveled the area you’re in. In order to make room for more level appropriate quests, you need to abandon some whose rewards are minimal because your level is too high. If you made a goal in your 20s and you’re now in your 30s but have yet to accomplish it, chances are that the goal just doesn’t fit your life now. You’ve grown past it. It’s hard to let go sometimes, especially as we’ve been told so often that quitting equals failing. If you’re only hanging on to this goal because you don’t want to be labeled a quitter, but it’s not actually going to give you anything in return, it’s time to let it go to make room for goals that are more appropriate to where your life is currently heading.
  2. Your raid group cannot defeat a certain boss. Every week you and your friends group up to try their hands at the new raid boss (big level character that takes many people to defeat), but just can’t seem to do it. Perhaps it’s time to look at your equipment, your understanding of the boss mechanics, your understanding of your own class abilities. In other words, you’ve set a goal for yourself that you don’t actually have the tools to accomplish. There’s nothing wrong with setting aside a goal for a time when you are equipped to complete it, or of simply dropping it completely.
  3. Overcomplicated Quest line whose benefits are not worth the effort. You heard about a quest that sounded pretty cool, but when you get into it you discover it has 36 mini quests and you need to complete them all before getting any rewards, and the reward you do end up getting is a piece of junk. Are the developers trolling you? I would say this example would be when you set a goal for something you thought would be simple, but discovered it would take much more time and effort than you thought. Now, there will still be goals that are worth pursuing even if they end up being more complicated, but that is something you will have to decide for yourself. Is the end reward what I thought it was going to be, and will it be worth my effort? If not, then don’t waste your time. There are plenty of other quests in the game 😉
  4. Limiting Quest Line. There are some quest lines that open up relations with certain factions, but by doing so you become hated by/closed from interaction with an opposing faction. You need to find out which faction will give you the benefits you want and can use. Does a goal of yours cut you off from interactions that would be more beneficial than the ones brought about by that goal? This would be a time where dropping a goal would be appropriate. Again, you are the only one who can decide which benefits are best for you, but don’t be afraid to let one go just because you’ve invested time into it if there is a better goal for you out there.
  5. Misleading Quest Line. Either a quest line looks like it will lead to a certain perk (new mount/companion/area), or you were told it would, but you find out once you get into it that it doesn’t. It’s not uncommon to set a goal with a certain outcome in mind only to find out that working on the goal is actually taking you in a different direction. If that direction is not something you want, don’t feel bad about letting go of this goal. Just because you start something doesn’t mean you have to finish it if it is going to work against you in the end.

These are just a few things that popped into my head while contemplating this topic. I hope you were able to get something out of them whether you are a gamer or not. There are a couple of other thoughts I had that I want to hit on before I end.

The first one is about mindset. Sometimes being too focused on results can be a detriment. Enjoying the process, the journey, and focusing on that will bring more joy. The Bhagavad Gita (Gandhi’s ‘spiritual dictionary’) states “Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do.” A goal should have you thinking more about ‘getting better’ than ‘being good’.

Secondly, if you are contemplating abandoning a goal, I want you to ask yourself a few questions. Why did you set the goal in the first place? Do you still have the same reasons for completing it? Do you want to quit merely because it is harder than you thought it would be? Or is it that the effort involved is too great compared to what you will actually obtain from completing it?

Make a list of honest pros and cons for quitting. Only you can know what’s best for you and what will make you happy. Get rid of goals that don’t bring happiness and fulfillment. Executive coach Steve Robbins said, “The people who had the least extraordinary lives were the ones who managed to adhere closest to their plans.” Lives change, circumstances change, so don’t be afraid to dump any goal that isn’t working for you anymore.

 

About Heidi A. Wilde

Heidi A. Wilde is a Respiratory Therapist by night and aspiring author by day. She spends her nights dragging people back from the brink of death, but she has dedicated her daylight hours to the pursuit of writing. Current projects include a Regency Romance series, a fantasy saga, and even a foray into the realm of Steampunk, as well as the occasional short story competition. She attributes the bulk of what knowledge she can claim to attendance in fabulous programs such as Superstars Writing Seminars, Dave Farland’s workshops, and various conventions.

Quitting – A Guest Post by Nicholas Ruva

A guest post by Nicholas Ruva.

When I was asked to write a guest post on quitting, I wasn’t exactly sure how to react. I am a journeyman writer. I’ve completed several shorts, and two novels, but nothing has seen the light of day outside of writing groups and Editor’s slush piles. As someone who has tried my hand at this craft for the past decade, after finally giving in and finishing a minor in Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, I should probably take a hint and throw in the towel. After a decade, if you’re still toiling away, trying to form writer groups, and producing content that gets polite, but definite, rejection letters, well… Shouldn’t I quit?

It’s been a topic on my mind for the last year. After a hellish turn of personal events, a sick dog, stress at work, the dog sick again, bills piling up, and the internal thrumming of a voice that says, “Make this happen, or move on,” yeah, I feel this topic through and through.

However, I don’t think that’s exactly the point of this series, and this topic, and let’s be honest, the majority of you reading this are probably wearing similar pants, and have also been rut-writing for nearly a decade with little to show. It comes with the territory, and eventually you get to this point and you say, “This is who I am. There is no real quitting this.”

So, Okay, fair enough. Let’s not all collectively quit writing for the new year. Let’s bury our nose into that old manuscript. Let’s hammer out that short that’s been sitting unwritten for a long time. Let’s send that submission out to Clarkesworld, Glimmer Train, the Atlantic, the New Yorker. Let’s put butt in seat and fingers on keys and finish that opus!

Well, maybe. I’m guilty of that too. The albatross. The chain wrapped so taut, and so heavy around the neck that it is hard to even make it to my desk. Maybe, just maybe, this is the year you put that old manuscript down. Maybe this is the year you say to yourself that the story in your head will never make it to the page, and you free yourself to do something new, something amazing. Maybe.

That’s hard advice. I have a book, two in fact, that I’ve lugged around for the past decade. The first is complete, but it’s terrible. It’s woefully bad on a level that I wouldn’t share even with my closest friends, though I was giddy to submit it to my writing class at USC. I was so sure they would recognize the brilliance that lay untapped. I was shocked when only one person in the class could even follow my magnificent work.

It was horrible. Going back to it now it’s painful to read, but there’s a glimmer there. The story idea is still strong, and sticks with me to this day. I know, given ten years of experience and a hell of a lot less ego, I could really do it justice. I want to do it justice, but sitting down to it is hard, so it sits.

The second work I should quit is more recent. I started a novel three years ago, and it was a fever-pitch writing session. I tore through fifty thousand words in a little under three days. I brought the rough story to workshops, and it gathered praise from students and instructors alike. It isn’t a big idea story, and probably won’t sell worth a damn, but it is a good story and it deserves to be finished. Still, the longer it sits, the harder it is to bring myself to conclusion.

I know how the story ends. I know exactly where I’m going from here, but sitting down to it is complete brain paralysis. All of that fever and excitement is gone, and it sinks into my creative conscious like a cork, bottling up any desire to move forward, and keeping me from tackling other larger works.

I’ve completed several short stories during the time I’ve been working on this novel, and come up with a few great ideas for other full length works. One idea in waiting I am almost certain will become a series of books, and that excites me completely, but when I go to sit-down and work on it, my WiP haunts me and taunts me from the depth of my creative consciousness.

In my head, I hear the advice Brandon Sanderson gave us at the Out of Excuses retreat in 2013. He warned of the same exact problem I suffer from today, that if you have this great work you’ve been trying to tell for a number of years, a story that you’ve carried with you afraid to finish due to not having the skill, or wanting to perfect over and over until it’s paralysis. If you have such a story… Kill it. It’s better to put that one in the ground then to allow it to weigh on your writing.

It’s solid advice that I can’t take. I feel invested. I feel so close to finishing, but I know it’s the right advice. I know the power spontaneity can bring. Over the past year, I’ve released three full albums of new music, most of the tracks completely improvised and then reworked, not unlike how I approach my writing. The experience is exciting, and I am often shocked at the results. Even my current work in progress novel was a completely spontaneous writing session that turned into a blistering paced seed of a novel. Allowing myself to remove the shackles of my previous work would free me to be more creative.

I am a computer programmer by trade. An odd one that specializes in automation, and removing manual steps from mission critical processes to optimize and standardize work. That’s a really long and drawn out way to say I am successful at my day job if I am able to remove myself from the process. To me, nothing is more satisfying than letting the gears move freely and getting out of the way of the collective machines so they can run at their best.

Although writing is, of course, wholly different in approach, the idea of clearing away obstacles and creating an environment where things run optimally is basically in my genes. I have no problem excessing legacy routines, rewriting bad code, or completely throwing away an entire way of thinking in order to ask, “What am I really trying to solve here?”

If I was to take that same approach to my writing, I’d have pulled the plug on this novel years ago, but it’s a part of me, more so than the code I write, or the job I do every day. The characters speak to me, and through me, and demand to have their story told. These darlings are damn hard to kill.

My monitor is rimmed with sticky notes for daily tasks, a product of the Agile development method. I use various colors for various tasks, but pink is set for personal goals. In all capital letters, stuck to the left side of my monitor, directly at eye level, a pink sticky note reads, “WORK ON THE NOVEL.” It is joined with other pink items with less urgent capitalization, but it’s there to be a constant reminder, a constant goading. It’s tough to quit on something so personal, especially when you know where it goes from here, and how freaking awesome that payoff of an ending will be. So, the novel sits, and I try and convince myself that this is the year things move forward with the work.

When I was approached to write about quitting, I didn’t know it would trigger such a response from my collective writer subconscious. I thought, maybe I will talk about buckling down and getting through it, but I’d be a phony if I did. I know how hard this can be, and maybe you are in a similar situation. If you are, I can’t offer you any advice other than you should probably quit on the work. I know I should have quit on this story last year, or even the year before, but I didn’t, and I likely won’t this year either.

Maybe, eventually, the guilt of it will spill over into another three-day-binge-session that sees me through to the story’s conclusion. Maybe it will be wholly mediocre, but cathartic in all the right ways to finally free myself. If this hasn’t happened to you. If you are the type that finishes everything they start, I envy you. I’ve met folks like you before, and their productivity was nothing short of awe-inspiring. I hope that’s you. Me, I’ll offer myself the advice I know I won’t take: Sometimes it’s alright to move on. You can quit and still be successful. Sometimes quitting is exactly what you need.

I wish I could take that advice, but, then again maybe this is the year I finally finish that novel.

 

About Nicholas Ruva

Nicholas Ruva is a writer, musician, and DevOps Engineer living in Los Angeles, California. When he’s not creating, he’s likely in the kitchen working on a new recipe, or in front of a keyboard trying to complete a catering job in Cook, Serve, Delicious. If you’d like to follow him on his publishing journey, you can find him on Facebook, Instagram, or toss a few fractions of a penny his direction by listening to his music under the name of Lake Onondaga on Spotify or pretty much anywhere music is streamed.